I’ve sifted through the data and current research so you don’t have to. Here are the answers to some of your top questions regarding food safety, grocery shopping, and delivery services to keep you safe and informed during this time.
Grocery Delivery vs. Curbside Pick-up vs. In-Store Shopping?
There are so many options for grocery delivery - Instacart, Shipt, and Peapod, to name a few. Your local grocery store or supermarket may also offer delivery directly from their app. However, finding an open slot for delivery in your area might seem near impossible! Have patience with this process, it may help to check very early in the morning as new slots open.
Similarly, you may face challenges with the curbside pick-up. I myself have not been able to find an open curbside pick-up for my local grocery stores, or I need the groceries sooner than the time slots available if there is an open spot.
Both of these are good options to reduce your own exposure and allow you to stay-at-home, or remain more socially distant while getting your groceries and other necessities. If your groceries are being delivered, request the bags be left on your doorstep so you can keep the delivery person and yourself safe. Again however, I would like to stress the importance of patience, kindness, and also flexibility towards the groceries stores, employees, and delivery workers as the products you’re requesting may not be available, or as you experience longer wait times.
If navigating apps and websites is not your thing, you might feel like physically going into the grocery store yourself is the only option. It’s recommended that if you're over 65 years of age to limit exposure as much as possible. In this case, see if a neighbor or family member can drop your groceries off at your door. If this is not a possibility, call your local grocery store and see if they offer special senior shopping hours so you don’t have to face as many crowds of people while shopping.
When at the grocery store, wipe down your cart or basket with an antibacterial wipe and sanitize your hands. Avoid touching your face while shopping, and restrain from handling products or touching produce or other items excessively or unnecessarily. Maintain social distance in the store as best as possible. When checking out, offer to bag your own groceries to limit the number of persons touching your food.
Do I need to disinfect every surface of my groceries?
From all the research I’ve read through, it appears the virus can last on hard surfaces like metal and plastics for up to 72 hours, and generally only sticks around on cardboard for 24 hours. You may be tempted to use that last container of Lysol wipes to disinfectant all surfaces of your groceries, however, the best thing you can do is keep good hand hygiene after unpacking your groceries, wipe down counter surfaces after putting your groceries away, and wash your hands throughout your cooking processes and before touching any ready-to-eat foods (i.e. fresh produce, bread, etc.).
The tips hereafter are helpful, but may not be practical or realistic. Pick the ones that feel right for you and your family, and don’t sweat the rest:
Rinse your produce with water (you should probably be doing this at all times anyways..), but do not use soap, bleach, or any other commercial cleaning products to clean them. Water and a clean brush or wash cloth does the trick just fine!
Using a mild soap and warm water is very effective at removing and rinsing the virus away - you can gently wash the surfaces of frequently touched containers (i.e. milk/juice, bulk yogurt, coffee creamer) before storing them in your fridge or pantry.
If you have the space, keep your new groceries in a separate area of the pantry or fridge for 24 hours before moving them around to their normal spot
Should I avoid getting take out?
There are many new or enhanced regulations restaurants now are complying with to ensure food preparation and delivery are safe during this time. There should be no reason to completely avoid takeout from restaurants, and local restaurants depend on the business to stay afloat. Also, from personal experience I can tell you it was truly a magical moment for me to enjoy steak fajitas and margaritas last Friday night after a long week and some very random dinners.
If you’re using curbside pick-up at restaurants, try to pay online or over the phone to reduce card handling, and bring your own pen to sign the receipt! Once home, transfer the food onto your own dinnerware, discard all packaging, and wash your hands before eating. Transferring the food out of the to-go packaging not only keeps you safe, but really enhances the experience of your meal - eat it at the table with your loved ones (virtually, if you’re living alone), and enjoy taking a night off of cooking, and eating something special you wouldn’t have been able to make at home!
Can I safely make meals for my family members, the elderly, parent’s with new babies, or others?
There is no evidence that the novel coronavirus can spread through food, so as long as you are practicing good hand hygiene and demonstrating all usual food safety precautions (i.e. not cooking if you’re sick or feeling ill, cooking foods to the proper temperatures, prompt transportation with popper temperature maintenance, etc.), the food should be safe for consumption without fear of spreading the virus. All previous tips and suggestions for packaging apply as well.
Should I be taking any special vitamins/supplements to stay healthy?
With food insecurity being a prevalent issue during this time due to inaccessibility, loss or income, food shortages due to stockpiling, it may be more difficult to eat a balanced diet. Taking a simple multi-vitamin that meets your recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals may be a good safety net to ensure your body is getting everything it needs.
There is some evidence for the immunity roles Zinc, Vitamin C, and Vitamin D can play in reduction of acute respiratory infection, however there can be adverse reactions if you take more than the recommended dose. So read the packaging on your supplements closely and do not take more than the upper tolerable limit for any vitamin or mineral.
The most important thing to do right now for your health is to stay fed - there are no magic superfoods that will keep you protected. How you do that to also stay sane is completely up to you - maybe it looks like fajitas and margaritas (or your mocktail of choice!) on Friday nights to get you through like me.
Sarah Roth, RDN, LD